Thursday, November 2, 2017

November Turkeys - The Ghost Galleon (1974)

By Jerry Chandler

After two rather successful forays into the world of the Blind Dead, Amando de Ossorio decided to change the formula up a bit and introduce some new twists into the mythos. Not all of this worked as well as he had hoped it would. The Ghost Galleon (also more commonly known as Horror of the Zombies in the 50 films for $20 public domain movie DVD sets) would move our decaying blood drinkers out of their scenic Spanish countryside home and into a broken down vessel drifting on the ocean waves. It also tried to introduce the weird, paranormal pseudo-science that was showing up in a lot of low budget (and the occasional bigger budget) horror films of that time. The former concept was actually enjoyable on a cheesy, so bad it’s good level once the film got past all of the mumbo jumbo buildup of the latter concept, but, still, enjoyable as hell or not, this film was a turkey and then some.

For those of you who have never experienced the Blind Dead films, here’s a quick explanation. The Blind Dead are the horror creation of Amando de Ossorio and enjoyed a film career of terrorizing unlucky souls on film across four movies released in between 1972 and 1975. They have been slotted into the zombie genre, but have far more in common with other horror creations from olden days than they do zombies. Their (somewhat convoluted) origin has it that they were Templar Knights who were engaging in satanic rituals before being hunted down and executed for their crimes. But, being damned by their practices, they (and their horses) would return centuries later to haunt the world of the living and continue their blood drinking ways. Their first two stories were set around the small village they were originally slain near, but the later films would expand the scope of their domain a bit even as they diluted to a degree what the Blind Dead were.

For a longer explanation of their world, you can take a look at my Needless Things write-up on Tombs of the Blind Dead from back in April of 2016 at this link.

Our November turkey’s story- which was far more threadbare than the even some of the other standard low budget horror stories of the time –kicks things off with a publicity stunt gone hellishly wrong. A businessman decides that the best way to advertise his swimwear or boats (it seems to change based on the version seen) is to create a fake emergency. He has two models take a small boat out onto the sea in order to pretend to be lost and stranded. How this was supposed to send people streaming into the shops to buy his swimwear/boats I have no idea, but they had to get the girls out there to meet their fate somehow and this was apparently all they could be bothered to think up.

So, our lovely ladies in fake danger are floating around on the open sea and unknowingly find themselves in very real danger when they spot an ancient, broken down galleon drifting along on its own. Oh, and, of course, it drifts along with its own fog bank. Somehow, this isn’t an immediate red flag for them. But, seeing as how John Carpenter wouldn’t make The Fog for another six years, I’ll cut them some slack on not knowing that this did not bode well for them. Well, plus their boat gets a bit broken thanks to bumping into the galleon.

I should stop and comment on the quality of the galleon itself. This is a low budget 1970s horror film from Spain. That means this is low budget looking even by the standards of the American low budget films of the era. The galleon when seen on the open waters actually looks really good at points. Not often, but it does have a scene or two where it looks pretty good and pretty creepy. Unfortunately, the majority of the scenes of the galleon sailing along on the waves looks like a toy in the bathtub shot against a dark curtain backdrop after dry ice has been dropped in the water behind it. There are scenes in this film that absolutely rise to the level of artistry that Amando de Ossorio is rightfully loved for by horror fans. A lot of the scenes of the galleon seen at any distance look more like a school film project my son might have made when he was six. 

This is made up for by the scenes we get on the boat itself. The boat sets are gorgeous for what they were, and Ossorio uses them for maximum effect in both the early going and the latter half of the film. Anyhow…

Our soon to be dead lovely ladies get on the big boat. They suddenly find themselves in a much darker world. I mean that literally. Day seems to turn to night on the boat. This wasn’t bad editing or a poor eye for continuity detail, but I’ll get to that later. They also find themselves somehow trapped on the boat. They choose to stay put and await rescue. This proves to be the wrong move.

Eventually, we get to see the Blind Dead rise from their tombs and hunt their new shipmates. Not being set at the old village or in their castle, one might think that there will be relatively few of the Blind Dead on the boat. One would be wrong. While the “tomb” sitting in the hold of the ship seems rather small initially, it seems to have the same ability of your average circus clown car or TARDIS. It’s way bigger on the inside, and once the thing opens up they come pouring out. 

Having nowhere else to go and a seeming inability to abandon ship, our ladies are gotten in very short order and drained of blood with much skinless, skeletal slurping.

Back on land, our businessman figures out that he’s lost contact with the girls and alerts the authorities to their status and last whereabouts in order to set in motion the proper rescue. I’m kidding. He pulls a bunch of people together who couldn’t possibly be a good search and rescue team to be his search and rescue team and sends them off to their deaths.

It’s here that we also meet a nutty professor who explains in great but confusing detail the nature of our ghost ship. As was the thing in a number of 1970s and 1980s productions, the paranormal was easily) or not so easily) explained with some really funky pseudoscience. In this case, the galleon has been floating out there on the high seas for all these many years, but not actually out on our high seas. It lives in a strange ghost dimension, and it floats along parallel to the things in our world without being seen. But, if you do see it, you are in a position where you can enter their dimension. If you climb up onto the galleon, you enter the dimension that it’s normally found in and are no longer in ours. You may in fact become trapped in this strange dimension of ghosts and almost perpetual nightfall. But this is all also still just about them having a cursed treasure or some such on the boat and being sort of ghosts.  

You got all that? Good.

Somehow, our rescue team finds the galleon and enters the dark dimension it’s found in. We’ll cut to the chase here. They’re all gonna die. 

The good part of their deaths is that the film finally takes off a bit. The first two Blind Dead films were very slow burn films. Surprisingly, this one was as well. I say surprisingly because this was such a cheap (even by the standards of the smaller budget compared to the successful prior films) film that seemed to be made just as a cash in on the Blind Dead name. It’s the kind of thing that you would expect to just go straight into mindless chase, action, and scare territory. But even here, as badly hampered as he was by the budget and the production time, Ossorio tried his best to make this a slow, tension building, ghost story styled film.

Other than the early appearance of the Blind Dead, the film moves slowly when it comes to getting to the climax. But once we get into the second half of the film and reach the climax of the film, it largely makes up for the first half of the film.

Our, well, heroes for lack of a better word, stumble about the galleon and do their best (and fail at doing their best) to find and rescue the lost models and to not die at the hands of the Blind Dead. At some point, the professor decides to create a burning cross to fight the spectral knights they’re facing. Because, you know, when you’re on an ancient ship made from dried out lumber and covered with sheets and sails that are at this point as flammable as Hell itself; you turn to fire as a ghost/zombie deterrent. The introduction of fire to this environment, on top of not saving all of them by any stretch of the imagination, ends exactly as one might assume it does. The ship goes up like flash paper and then goes down to a watery grave. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the budget comes into play in a bad way. There are no scenes in the film where the long shots of the galleon make it look more like a toy in the tub than the climactic scenes of this haunted vessel meeting its final, fiery fate. 

But, fortune smiles on our last remaining guy and gal as the ship going up in flames opens the portal back to our dimension. As they find themselves splashing about in the sea, the land seems to get a lot closer than it was before. This allows them to swim to the deserted beach, stagger up onto the sand, and then, because, well, dumbasses, find a comfy spot to nap rather than getting as far away from the water as possible.

Seriously, do people IN horror films never WATCH the damned things?

So, as our two survivors cuddle and nap to the sounds of the waves lapping gently on the sandy shore, we get the iconic scene from the Nazi zombie film Shock Waves just a few years earlier than Shock Waves did it. Our evil dead sort of zombies start bobbing to the surface and heading for the shoreline in fairly short order. The thing that works in their favor so well at other times works great for them here. As they tend to make very little sound, they manage to surround our couple and, being very good and well-schooled horror movie critters, wait for our couple to actually open their eyes and see them before pouncing on them and draining them dry of their precious life blood.

Despite what may seem like a great deal of rubbishing of this film, I have to admit that it’s one of my favorite so bad it’s good films. I love the Blind Dead series of films, and this film, while feeling at times as if it was not as seriously done as the prior two, may be my favorite of the series when it comes to just watching one of them for the sheer goofy fun of it.

As noted above, The Ghost Galleon can still be found in many public domain sets that cost little for the number of films you get, but there’s also a fantastic print on DVD from Blue Underground that goes for under $10 through online dealers. This film is absolutely a turkey and then some, but it is a glorious turkey that is worth tracking down and owning. The Blind Dead are one of the most terrifyingly perfect creations in horror, and beautifully executed on film by their creator, Amando de Ossorio, each time out no matter the limitations he had to face with the productions. This is a film that you will more than likely enjoy, and it’s a film you can show in a group and have a great time with.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.

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